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Spotlight Report

  Derrick Z. Jackson  

The kindest regards for an errant priest

1/25/2002

In his closed-door pep rally this week to shoo off the vultures over the horrible handling of the John Geoghan child sexual abuse scandal, Cardinal Bernard Law said: ``My resignation is not part of the solution as I see it. I want the archdiocese to become a model for how this issue should be handled. I have a responsibility as your archbishop to help that happen. . . . what I have come to learn with a much more vivid clarity during the past weeks is that our singular focus must be the protection of children.''

According to the Globe's coverage, Law was applauded at his pep rally. Its very congeniality was telling. Even as the cardinal spoke of clarity, the code of silence in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston remained vividly clear. Many priests refused to talk to reporters. Those who did were in obvious lock step behind Law. Monsignor Paul B. McInerny said: "Cardinal Law is the best thing that's ever happened to the church of Boston in terms of leadership. . . . This one mistake . . . is not the reason and cannot be the thing that ends his incredible leadership of this local church."

"This one mistake" is a shockingly insensitive attempt by McInerny to diminish the 130 alleged cases of sexual abuse, at least 30 of which happened after Law became the archbishop in 1984. This is especially true since the day after the pep rally, the Globe's Spotlight Team published excerpts of dozens of internal documents about Geoghan. None of the ones involving Law speak to "the protection of children." They all involve the coddling of Geoghan.

The newly revealed documents show that Geoghan was treated with a frat brother's love as as he was shuffled from parish to parish for his sexual abuse of children. Twice, in 1974 and 1981, when the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros placed him at St. Andrew's in Jamaica Plain and St. Brendan's in Dorchester, Medeiros wrote to Geoghan, "I am confident that you will render fine priestly service to the People of God." In 1982, after families pleaded with Medeiros to take Geoghan out of the priesthood, Medeiros sent Geoghan to Rome on a sabbatical with $2,000 in expense money.

In 1984 Law continued Medeiros's covering for Geoghan. Law removed Geoghan from St. Brendan's in Dorchester over yet more complaints of abuse, but put him at St. Julia's in Weston. That was over the objections of Bishop John D'Arcy, who knew of Geoghan's past. In the next eight years, Geoghan allegedly abused children another 30 times.

In the middle of those years, 1989, Geoghan was taken out of service for counseling for his pedophilia, but put back in service by Law. Though the nation's Catholic bishops had been informed in 1985 in an internal report that pedophilia is probably incurable, Law wrote to Geoghan: "It is most heartening to know that things have gone well for you and that you are ready to resume your efforts with a renewed zeal and enthusiasm. . . . With my warmest personal regards and my blessing upon you and all whom you serve so well, I remain sincerely yours in Christ."

I doubt you can find too many CEOs who would write such a letter to a known serial child sex molester and rapist.

After Geoghan was taken out of St. Julia's, he was reassigned to Regina Cleri, a residence for retired priests, where, during 1993-1996, he was accused of even more molestations. But all that Law ever said to Geoghan when he placed him on administrative leave in 1994 was: "I realize this is a difficult time for you and for those close to you. If I can be of help to you in some way, please contact me. Be assured you are remembered in my prayers."

In 1996, when Law sent Geoghan to yet another round of residential treatment, Law told Geoghan, "These are difficult matters, John. You are in my thoughts and prayers. With warm personal regards and asking God to bless you . . ."

In 1996, Law wrote Geoghan to say, "Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. On behalf of those you have served well, and in my own name, I would like to thank you. . . . We are our best selves when we respond in honesty and trust. God bless you, Jack."

Contrast those kindly letters with what Geoghan's victims got from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The victims either were met with silence or were guilt-tripped by priests to remain silent.

In a press conference yesterday, Law repeated his newfound assertion that his singular focus must be "the protection of children." But the singular focus of his lawyers is to go to court to try to discredit the children who say that they were victimized by Geoghan. This is not the model for how this issue should be handled.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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